Rio de Janeiro on a Shoestring

Imagine sun tanned beach-goers sipping on cool coconuts, striking rock formations, and dazzling spectacles of music and dance… All of these things exist in one incredible city – Rio de Janeiro. There’s a reason they call it the Marvelous City!

Of course, you’ve probably seen tons of photos of Rio on TV or online and thought to yourself, wow, that place is definitely on my bucket list. And, with amazing destinations often comes a sky-high price tag. Well, there’s good news for you – no matter your budget, Rio can be affordable and enjoyable! Here are a couple of ways to save some money in the Cidade Maravilhosa.

Enjoy Rio’s Nature Scene

Rio has a ton of parks, hiking areas, and of course beaches that you can enjoy for free! Some of the most famous hikes are Dois Irmãos, Pedra da Gávea, Urca (up to the top of the Sugar Loaf rock), and even up to the Christ the Redeemer statue. Some of these are a little bit dangerous to do alone, so it’s best to go with a local guide to ensure your safety.
If hiking isn’t your thing, the Jardim Botánico is a neat park in the Gávea district with a lot of native Brazilian plants. It only costs 6 reais (about $3) to enter and it’s a secluded, shady place to spend the afternoon. The Lagoa, which is a giant heart-shaped lake just above Ipanema, is another beautiful Rio highlight where you can take a sunset jog or have a picnic with friends.

Dine Outside of Main Tourist Areas

Food can either be one of the most expensive or one of the cheapest things you’ll find in Rio. The best way to minimize food costs (and taste some of the best the city has to offer) is to venture out of more touristy areas like Ipanema and Copacabana and into more residential places, like Botafogo and Flamengo.
My favorite bar/restaurant in Rio was located in Botafogo and, despite living in Copacabana, I went there at least once a week for drinks and some of their amazing fried chicken. Even within the tourist areas, you can find cheaper eats farther away from the beach, where more locals are likely to hang out. The only issue with these is being able to read the menu!

Spend Your Days At The Beach

The beach is one of the main draws of Rio, and yes, it’s possible to while away your days at the beach people-watching, sun tanning, and swimming. Ipanema beach is where a lot of the locals hang out, and it’s a good place to camp out for the day and snack on finger foods and açaí from the beach vendors. If you want something a little more secluded, walk over to Praia Vermelha in Urca, or take a public bus over to Recreio beach (approximately an hour away from Ipanema). If you like surfing, Leme is a good place to start.
If you’re hoping to watch the sunset after your day at the beach, head over to Arpoador rock, in between Ipanema and Copacabana, for a gorgeous view of the sun over Dois Irmãos. It’s a stunning way to end a day of beach relaxation in Rio.

Opt for the Off-Season

The summer in Rio, which begins in December, is a high season for tourism that extends through to March, after Carnaval. During this time, accommodation prices, tour packages, and food prices skyrocket. Also, the petty crime rate on tourists (robbery, theft, etc.) increases. Avoiding this time would be best if you are hoping to save money during your trip.
I would recommend visiting Rio during summertime in the Northern Hemisphere, anytime from May to September. You’ll miss the main tourist crowds but it’s still warm enough to go to the beach and enjoy Rio’s natural attractions. And, even better, it won’t be so extremely hot that you’ll want to stay inside all the time! The optimal time to visit would be September and October – before all of the tourists come in December but while the weather is still cool and balmy.


This might be self-explanatory to anyone who has traveled on a budget, but I stress this one because you’ll miss a lot of Rio’s vibrant street life if you take buses and cabs everywhere. Zona Sul, which houses most of the tourism in the city, has a handful of fun street markets, like the Sunday Hippie Market in Praça General Osório and the variety of fresh produce markets throughout the week. On Sundays, the city closes the streets bordering the beach to vehicles, and they become walking streets with hundreds of people running, walking, skateboarding, and biking. Often, street musicians will perform by the beach on the weekends as well, lighting up an already vibrant atmosphere with classic Brazilian tunes. Yes, it’s really as great as it sounds!
Walking in Rio is a tourist attraction in and of itself. The people-watching is fascinating, from dog walkers to beachgoers and everything in between. Find a group of friends at your hostel (or visit with friends from home) and set out to see the city by foot. You’ll probably find many more fun and free things to do just by walking around at your own pace, stopping every once in a while for a cool açaí or coconut water.

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